A point came when a friend of mine (and a good number of years my senior) declared she would no longer sit with (or near) me during author readings. I made comments. Particularly when the hour mark had been passed.
It was not argued that my comments were not accurate. And I did not dispute that they were awash in ridicule. Some might say cruel. But - ya know - a poor author reading does a dis-service not only to the suffering audience, but to literature, books and writing in general. And it damages me twofold, in the listening and then by any repercussions when I next give a reading. I'm sure the attendance to readings diminishes with every poor reading attended. This may be why most audiences seem to be made up of other authors and press-ganged students.
Authors - for Gawd's sake - at least practise a few times in front of a mirror. Or read to the cat. Inflect when there is dialogue. [And make sure there is dialogue.] Pick something with some element of humour. You are there to entertain - don't pretend otherwise. If Kafka can leave them rolling in the aisles (and he did), then you can do something.
And no more that forty minutes - OK?
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The season of readings is upon us. Let the misery begin.
by DOUGLAS BELL
"Readings can be tricky affairs,” Irish author Aidan Higgins wrote. “There’s nothing more calculated to cause a gritting of the teeth, a shudder of the spirit or even a rising of the gorge than to be voluntarily confined in a Function Room to endure an hour-long ranting by the author in person, of predigested matter now regurgitated, delivered in a monotonous drone. It is enough to make a cat laugh or a dog throw up.”
Public readings by beloved authors that will grace, or litter, the country this fall (depending on your point of view), or readings by obscure poets endured from the sore-bum folding aluminum chairs at the local library, both afford the same ambiguous prospect.
Why then do we go in such numbers, when the possibility of hair-numbing boredom is so much a possibility? I mean we wouldn’t go off to see, say, Rush if we thought Neil Peart would be keeping time with just the one cymbal, would we? Why do readers who experience the writer’s work as an entirely private matter turn out in such numbers to experience it again as a public performance?
It’s a puzzler even for the folks whose life work it is to promote and encourage writers to get up in front of an audience. John Fraser, Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, a venue for innumerable readings and book launches and other smart chatter, says, “Authors who go on for too long really, really irritate me.”
And, while Fraser refuses to name names, he doesn’t go on to qualify that statement with any suggestion that these cases are in a decided minority: “In our case, readings are more for the moral and psychological support of the author.” Ouch.